Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My amazing 5 months in Tel Aviv

Samantha Beers has just returned home to Boston after her 5 months on the Social Action track. She will be returning to her job as a Special Education teacher. As she settles back into life in the US, she is already adding touches of her deeper connection to Judaism and Israel to her life and home. She recently hung a beautiful Israeli mezuzah to the door of her new apartment.
Here she describes her experiences on Tikkun Olam, and the effect it had on her. 

Five months ago, I started on what became an incredible adventure. When I signed up for Tikkun Olam, I kept getting asked, "What will you be doing in Israel?", "Why do you want to go there?", "Why can’t  you just work with kids in another state?", "What do you want from this experience?" All the questions were so overwhelming. I had left a great teaching job to take this opportunity and taken a big risk, but let me tell you it was the best decision of my life.

My time is this program was well spent. Every Sunday, I took classes on issues that Israel is facing, participated in a course that dug deeper into the Torah, and took a 3 hour course to learn Hebrew. Our Sundays, were full of group discussions and questions typically leading to everyone forming their own questions that we were all hoping to find answers to. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, I was volunteering with 5 different programs. The best part of volunteering was that it was so individualized. My focus was on teaching and working with children but there were opportunities to work with refugees, elderly, and honestly anything you were interested in. The program coordinators either had connections to places or would help you find something that fit your interest.

 Mondays were split between Beit Holland and Lilach. Beit Holland is a kindergarten program for students with multiple disabilities. The staff was incredible and you just couldn’t help but fall in love with all the children ! Lilach was an afterschool program for at-risk and low-income families. I always looked forward to sitting around the table eating with all the kids, playing soccer, coloring, playing games, and especially going all out for their birthdays. On Tuesdays, I spent my mornings at Mikveh Israel. I really enjoyed teaching English to 11th and 12th graders with behavioral issues. It was a great challenge and in the process I learned so much from the staff and students. At night, I was making a quick outfit change to help out at Etgarim. This is an incredible bicycle program working with children and adults with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. Every week, I met another amazing individual who touched my life. I loved riding on a tandem bike or riding along with someone through the paths to the beach. It was a great way to get to know one another and a way to build trust. On Thursdays, I volunteered at Beit Holland and spent my afternoons at Sexual Assault Center. For 4 months, I was tagging, organizing, and putting together clothes for a huge Bazaar with around 500 designers. This event was huge and was going to help raise money for the center. In the end it was so successful! 

Sam at the MLK event she helped organize
On Wednesdays, we took classes that discussed Jewish identity, Zionism, and Jewish Cinema. I always looked forward to Wednesdays because we also got the chance to do presentations on places we were volunteering at and could present on things that we were interested in.

My weekends were spent traveling around the country with or without the program. I went to Eilat, the Golan Heights, the Negev, the Judean Desert and many other great places! We even traveled with the group during the week to explore parts of Israel that we were learning about in our classes.
Overall, 5 months flew by but this program made it possible to accomplish so much in so little time. I was able to help children, really focus on my own Jewish identity and learn about all the conflicts and amazing things that are all taking place in this small country that we love so much! Tikkun Olam is a great program and while after all my experiences, I am now heading back to Boston to a teaching position in a 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade special education class. Tikkun Olam will always have a special place in my heart <3